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Money Well Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History Hardcover – January 31, 2012

4.4 out of 5 stars 14 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


Kirkus, December 1, 2011
“A deeply reported, well-written account of a difficult topic to capture, partly because of the complexity and partly because the stimulus package remains a work in progress.”

Publishers Weekly
“This thorough exploration of the stimulus will educate readers about where money went, not just in the focus cities but around the country, and the lasting impact of the Great Recession.”

Dave Davies,NPR’s Fresh Air
“an important, and eminently-readable book…The real value of Grabell's book is that it digs into the meat of the plan - how it was crafted, how the spending was divided into strikingly different programs, and what their impacts were.” 

Wall Street Journal
“Mr. Grabell does such a thorough job of cataloging the program's misdirected funds and misplaced priorities that one wonders how he settled on the inquisitive title....’Money Well Spent?’ would make a compelling book-club selection for politically oriented readers.”

The Economist’s Democracy in America blog
“The debate we had about the stimulus probably should have been a lot like the book Mr Grabell has written: a detailed investigation of what does and doesn't work in stimulus spending and whether the government really can jump-start a promising industry through investments, tax breaks and industrial policy. But that wasn't the debate we had.”

Glenn Altschuler, Huffington Post
“Richly detailed, judicious, thorough and timely, his book is a primer on how to evaluate this policy -- and all public policies -- in a highly partisan, polarized, paralyzed political climate.”

Tyler Cowen, Marginal Revolution
“I recommend Michael Grabell, Money Well-Spent?: The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, The Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History. It is a very good journalistic account of how the money was spent, and less scandal-mongering than the title might indicate. I found it to be quite an objective account. There should be more books like this, looking at the nuts and bolts of economic legislation.”

Demos' Policy Shop blog
“The book is effective because it reopens old wounds. We are reminded of the aggravating lawmakers who were neither dogmatically against the stimulus nor inclined to pass a strong bill -- and yet, because Republican support was nearly nonexistent, were the linchpin of the effort.”
Dallas Morning News
“Grabell, a former Dallas Morning News reporter now working in New York for ProPublica, does a better job sorting through the competing claims than anyone else writing on the topic yet has… What's especially moving about the book, then, is not its conclusions about the stimulus, but rather the sense of missed opportunities one is left with. There is an impression that too much was left undone in this country - and that feeling, in the end, overshadows the initial judgments readers will make for themselves about whether the stimulus was too big, too small or just a bad idea altogether…. By reading this book, one does more than learn how the Recovery Act was crafted and why it fell short. One learns about the problems it was designed to fix, and about the people who have depended on it…. [Grabell’s]achievement is to give readers more than an intellectual understanding of the arguments that will be shouted across the political divide between now and November.”

Idaho Statesman
“Grabell pulls back the curtain on the stimulus, which tops a trillion dollars when extensions and inflation adjustments are factored in, and provides an insightful analysis of this landmark legislation and its impact on the U.S. economy… The question mark at the end of the book’s title is well placed, as Grabell, a reporter for the independent, nonprofit ProPublica, lays out the still-unfolding story of how the stimulus affected people, communities and the U.S. economy. As the merits of the Recovery Act continue to be the subject of debate, “Money Well Spent?” provides a thoughtful analysis of where the money went and who benefited.”

Businessworld (India)
“Immaculately researched… His conclusions might startle many. It does not matter if you are pro-US or not, grab a copy. It’s a supreme piece of investigative journalism."

Grand Prairie Union News
“For a well-written and objective analysis, Grabell’s Money Well Spent? is a valuable summary of the internal politics and the impact of stimulus spending.”

The American
“Better policy would have produced a better recovery, both broadly and in housing. Likewise, I think bad policy out of Washington made the recovery weaker. I urge everyone to take a look at Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History by Michael Grabell, a reporter for ProPublica.”
Engineering News Record
“The depth of research and first-person interviewing by Michael Grabell, a reporter for the non-profit investigative news service ProPublica, is evident… The book provides a one-stop resource for data on stimulus spending and provides many examples of incongruities in aligning funding, politics and real needs—the ‘tension between the timely and the transformative,’ as Grabell puts it.”

Kenneth D. Simonson, Business Economics
“A thoroughly researched, carefully documented, sprightly written narrative… Unlike so many writers about the stimulus program—including many economists—Grabell appears interested in presenting the facts, not his own spin.”

About the Author

Michael Grabell has been a reporter at ProPublica since 2008, producing stories for USA Today, Salon, NPR, MSNBC.com and the CBS Evening News. Before joining ProPublica, he was a reporter at The Dallas Morning News. He has twice been a finalist for the Livingston Award for Young Journalists. He lives in New Jersey.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 416 pages
  • Publisher: PublicAffairs; Revised ed. edition (January 31, 2012)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1610390091
  • ISBN-13: 978-1610390095
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.5 x 9.3 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.9 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.4 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (14 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #1,674,683 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By David Kinchen on January 26, 2012
Format: Hardcover
Cash for Clunkers, Shovel Ready. These phrases are so 2009. I've been trying to put them out of my mind, but Michael Grabell necessarily uses them in his new book about the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 --- more commonly known as The Stimulus -- in "Money Well Spent? The Truth Behind the Trillion-Dollar Stimulus, the Biggest Economic Recovery Plan in History."

Grabell, a reporter for the nonprofit news organization ProPublica, which supplies news for publishing partners under a creative commons agreement, traveled the country, visiting places like Elkhart, Indiana, Aiken, South Carolina, and Fremont, California, interviewing people who have been body-slammed by the biggest economic downturn since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

One could argue that Elkhart, the nation's recreational vehicle capital, has only itself to blame for its economic collapse, with its unemployment rate rising from 4 percent before the 2007-2008 meltdown to more than 20 percent after, but this criticism could be made of the nation as a whole, as people from the very top -- George W. Bush, Alan Greenspan, and Wall Street's "smartest guys in the room", predicted that the nation had entered a new era of prosperity, with recessions a thing of the past. Many people took advantage of easily obtained home equity lines of credit (HELOCs) to go on a spending spree, buying gas-guzzling RVs, home improvements to houses that would soon be underwater -- along with other spending decisions based on the erroneous idea that housing prices could only go up.

Grabell talks to real people affected by meltdown, putting a human face on the recession.
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Format: Hardcover
Although ProPublica is usually farther left than my views, I have frequently been impressed by its journalists' work. This is one such work and it was well done.

The author does not hide his views (Keynesian economics works, helping people in times of economic trouble is what government has to do) but makes a very strong effort to present not just the pros but also the cons behind the stimulus. The pros being, it put some people to work and some necessary work got done. The cons being, there was a lot of poor execution - projects took a long time to get off the ground so never really stimulated very much, and many were ineffective or wastes of money. So you get a presentation that struck me as "warts and all", that is, he does not hide the warts of numerous individual failures of design and execution, but he endorses the overall program as something that just had to be done.

As this is journalism, he gives priority to following specific persons affected by the recession and specific projects that comprised part of the stimulus. He also provides a narrative of legislative, political and bureaucratic events in DC from 2009 onward that led to the stimulus programs and interweaves them with the stories about ordinary people and specific project successes and failures. I thought all of these were very good examples of professional journalism and could find hardly anything to fault in it. I should note that he dwells almost entirely on the public works aspect of the stimulus, and says little about either the tax cut portion or the welfare expansion portion.

Likewise, this being journalism, he tends to eschew macro analysis and just focus on the concrete.
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Format: Hardcover
Grabell's book is an engaging recount of the $825B stimulus negotiations, execution, and consequences. The overall conclusion Grabell draws is that the stimulus was necessary, probably did some good, but ultimately was not as effective as it could have been given the lag in spending and the policy of thinly spreading money across the country (like "peanut butter") instead of focusing dollars on major products. Grabell does not do his own economic analysis but competently reports various opinions of economic experts.

As a work of journalism, this book is excellent. Grabell has conducted hundreds of interviews and the text moves back and forth between individual profiles and discussions of broader events taking place. Grabell is even-handed in his treatment and although he is largely sympathetic towards administration officials, he is quick to point out the waste, deception, fraud (both by government and private parties seeking stimulus funds), and mistakes that were made. The overwhelming scope and ambition of the stimulus program becomes clear throughout the book and readers will often be left shaking their heads in disbelief.

The rise of the Tea Party is addressed, but I still felt that the 2010 elections and the health care debate could have been treated in more detail. Overall, this is a very thorough book on the stimulus that should definitely be read by those interested in politics and fiscal policy.
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At the level of election politics Democrats and Republicans have been so effective at creating protected election boundaries that very few candidates from the left or right must listen to the other side or even recognize the middle ground on the way to elected office. Between Internet blogs,cable television and what was called "narrowcasting" people can choose new sources based on which source is most likely to tell the listener that the listener is right about everything. The traditional purpose of the Free Press is to keep the public informed. In more recent generations the obvious purpose has been to keep the ownership of the press in income. The advent of news blogs and news broadcasts that deliberately disdain claims of unbiased reporting; ensure that the readership or listener-ship or viewership, need never be confronted with information that challenges a person's preexisting prejudices.

Money Well Spent? is a legitimate effort by author Michael Grabell to report on and analyze the trillion dollar stimulus plan and let the trillion chips fall where they may. Along the way he does his best to give names, faces, and places a sympathetic hearing. Grabell finds the facts that make lie of some of the more infamous misinformation generated on the political right and is just as ready to declare scandal where White House investments (Solyndra) were pursued beyond reasonable hope for a positive outcome.

In this respect Grabell adheres to the independent reputation of ProPublica, where he is employed as a reporter. If nothing else this book is a case in point that investigative journalism need not be biased.
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